Pearl S. Buck | Critical Review by Richard Sullivan

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Pearl S. Buck.
This section contains 622 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by William Clifford

SOURCE: "Descendants on the Ascendance," in Saturday Review, Vol. 46, No. 40, October 5, 1963, pp. 41-2.

In the following review, Clifford discusses Buck's The Living Reed and "regrets that this greatly respected author's use of the arts of fiction can hit so much farther from the mark than her feeling for Asians and her detailing of Asian history."

In 1883 the United States ratified a treaty of amity and commerce with Korea, recognizing Korea's independence and promising "an amicable arrangement" in case of outside interference or oppression. Chinese influence in Korea had recently declined, and Korea was looking for someone to protect her from the Japanese and Russians. We were looking for trade.

Japan soon won the struggle with Russia and moved into Korea. In 1905 Secretary of War William Howard Taft signed a secret agreement in Tokyo giving Korea to Japan, provided Japan kept hands off the Philippines and did not try to stop American trade in Manchuria. President Theodore Roosevelt declared openly: "Korea is absolutely Japan's."

Woodrow Wilson aroused the hopes of Koreans, as he did of other small nations, when he declared the self-determination of peoples, but the promise was not fulfilled. During the Second World War, which Koreans regarded as their war of liberation from half a century of Japanese occupation, Franklin Roosevelt proposed that Korea be placed under the trusteeship of China, the United States, and one or two other nations, rather than restored to freedom. (Russia as usual had other plans.) When the American military government arrived in 1945, the surrendering Japanese forbade Koreans to meet with Americans, and they shot down a group that appeared at Inchon with flowers and flags to welcome the liberators. The American general commended the Japanese for "controlling the mob."

Anyone who thought that our involvement in Korea began with the Korean War needs to know this much of recent history. In Pearl Buck's fifty-sixth published book, a novel called The Living Reed, this is a small part of a panoramic story of a modern Korea told with impressive documentation, authentic background, and sympathy.

Any unfamiliarity in setting and historical event may for most readers be compensated for by the novel's familiar, old-fashioned style of storytelling. Four generations of a noble Korean family are portrayed, from 1881, when they were advisers to the king and queen, down to their unhappy division on the eve of the Korean War, when one grandson is a Mission-trained doctor and another a Russian-trained agitator. "Living Reed" is the name given to the father of the Communist, a man who fought for freedom during the Japanese occupation. It symbolizes the faith that a new supply of men to continue the struggle will spring up, like bamboo reeds, in the place of those who are cut down.

One regrets that this greatly respected author's use of the arts of fiction can hit so much farther from the mark than her feeling for Asians and her detailing of Asian history. It isn't very important that she makes the mistake of saying that Pearl Harbor Day was December 7th in Korea. (As in Japan, it was the 8th.) It is more difficult to have to accept, at the end of The Living Reed, a character named Mariko who seems to belong in Terry and the Pirates. She is a kind of Dragon Lady, part Japanese, part Chinese, and part English, who dances in the Japanese theatre in Seoul during wartime, sometime around the winter of 1944–45, yet can leave when she likes to fly direct to London, Paris, and New York, carrying letters to Korean leaders in exile. "I speak the language wherever I am … I dance. I am an artist … I belong to no country—and every country."

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This section contains 622 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Florence Hanton Bullock
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